The case for networking shop-floor operations, especially in capital intensive plants, is compelling. Higher productivity, less waste, lean manufacturing and transparency are the goals of these manufacturing execution systems (MES), but these can be frustrated by incomplete machine connections. Forcam, a world leader in this field, with over 60,000 machine tools and plant items successfully connected using its Factory Framework MES, has produced a paper that explores how to overcome these problems.
Difficulties connecting machines arise for many reasons. Different machine makers may use varied systems to gather and transmit operation data. Leading manufacturers, such as Heidenheim, Siemens and Fanuc, incorporate communication software with standardised protocols to facilitate machine interconnection. However, legacy machines often use obsolete or obscure data collection and data streaming software. Data also needs to be aggregated and processed so that it is streamed into the MES in a consistent format.
Forcam’s answer is to use powerful plug-ins that are relevant to the machine and control protocols. These enable consistent and reliable data transfer covering many facets of machine operation such as alarms, tool allocation and the transmission of NC files. As Andrew Steele, managing director of Forcam in the UK explained, “Effective MES demands totally integrated data collection, with no exclusions for legacy or hard-to-connect machines. Only by 100 per cent data capture can management have a full transparent and real-time view of manufacturing operations and the objective information on which to make correct decisions. This is even more crucial where the MES provides data to the ERP system for higher level management and planning.”
Without the necessary knowledge and experience of implementing large scale machine integration, in-house teams or less experienced MES vendors may face long delays in implementation. Forcam caution that some vendors, lacking the library of plug‑ins and experience of large scale system integration, will resort to the use of third‑party communication software, incurring high licence fees and imposing an on-going additional cost.
Engineers wishing to access a PDF version of the Forcam paper can download it from http://www.forcam.com/index.php?id=299. Forcam will be happy to provide further advice on any aspect of MES implementation. The company will be exhibiting at the Hannover Fair April 13-17, Hall 7 Stand A11.